History of Wisconsin Judicare

The State Bar of Wisconsin organized Wisconsin Judicare in 1966 as a program funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity to provide legal services to low-income persons.  State Bar President Donald O’Melia and State Bar Executive Director Philip Habermann convinced officials in Washington to approve an experimental program that would pay private attorneys to provide free legal services to low-income persons.  Habermann coined the word "Judicare" as a name for the program.  Judicare’s office opened in Madison, Wisconsin, on June 1, 1966, to serve low-income people in 26 northern Wisconsin counties.  The State Bar of Wisconsin was the grantee for the program from 1966 to 1972 when the program was incorporated as Wisconsin Judicare, Inc., a nonprofit corporation.  Judicare continued with funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity until 1976 when Congress established the Legal Services Corporation.  Since that time, the Legal Services Corporation has provided Wisconsin Judicare’s primary funding.

A director, an attorney, and one secretary staffed Judicare’s first office located in Madison.  The program served counties located in northern Wisconsin.  In 1972, the program moved its central office to Wausau where it remains today.  The area served by the program has expanded so that Wisconsin Judicare now serves 33 northern counties and Wisconsin's 11 federally recognized Indian tribes.

From its inception, Wisconsin Judicare emphasized utilization of the private bar to represent low-income persons and provide eligible clients the freedom to choose their attorneys. 

In the past, eligible persons were issued a Judicare card.  When they had a legal problem, they took their card to a local attorney for a consultation.  The lawyer then contacted the Judicare office.  If Judicare approved the case, the local attorney did the work for the client, and Judicare paid the lawyer’s fees. 

As of January 1, 2013, however, Judicare no longer issues cards.  Click here for the current procedure.

From the beginning, Wisconsin Judicare recognized a special commitment to serving Wisconsin Indians and Indian tribes.  Wisconsin Judicare has played an active role in many major Wisconsin cases concerning tribal sovereignty and treaty rights issues in the last 30 years.  Since 1980, Wisconsin Judicare has received a separate grant from the Legal Services Corporation to provide legal services to Native Americans.

As a nonprofit corporation, Wisconsin Judicare is governed by a Board of Directors.  Fourteen members of the 23-member Board are attorneys.  They are appointed by local bar associations and one Board member is appointed by the State Bar President.  Eight members of the Board are persons who, at the time of their appointment to the Board, were eligible for Judicare services.  In addition, one board member is a representative appointed by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Wisconsin Judicare receives funding primarily from the Legal Services Corporation.  In addition, Wisconsin Judicare receives money from the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation.  The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also awards Judicare a grant to provide outreach on health care issues and income maintenance to Native American elders and training for tribal benefit specialists.  Judicare has been a recipient of this elder outreach grant since 1993.  In previous years, Wisconsin Judicare has been awarded federal grants such as Violence Against Women Act Grant and Bureau of Justice Affairs Grant.  Wisconsin Judicare has also been the recipient of private foundation grants such as the Otto Bremer Grant.  Judicare also receives continued community support in the form of a United Way of Marathon County grant.